Riders Note: It really is about 78 miles from Purmamarca to Susques. We rode the first 18 miles of it yesterday – a tremendous climb from 7,400 ft to 13,300 ft.)
We woke up at the comfortable Hotel El Manatial del Silencio in Purmamarca and had a quick breakfast. Just outside waited our newly cleaned Fiat Doblo Adventure (thanks Eduardo!) was waiting under the arch.
Steve, Dalton, Eduardo and I then headed back up to what I refer to as the Purmamarca grade to the Tortuga Grande Pass to pick back up on our ride.
Here’s the whole team at 4170 meters = 12,927 feet, me just rushing up to beat the camera timer, at the top. We regrouped in the cold wind and rode.
“Just over the crest is the mind-boggling view of three 6,000 meter peaks scattered around the plane in the distance to the left – Cachi in Jujuy and Acay and Cachi in Salta. Immediately in front is the silent, white sea of the Salinas Grades basking in the sun at 3,470 meters above sea level.” Here is the view of the road heading down.
The winds from the west, headwinds for us, were very strong and brisk. If it were not for the 15 mile *downhill * to the Salinas Grandes, it would have been a very rough morning. Here’s Dalton on the way down. You can see the road across the famous salt flats in the distance.
Eduardo waited at the bottom and found 3 kids amidst nowhere and gave them some cookies and candy. Their adobe homes, sans water and electricity, could be just off to the side of the road or maybe a few kilometers away. Made of the ground they rest on, the homes blend in.
A few kilometers later at the intersection of Ruta 40, a dirt road, we came across Facundo. Lisa and I met Facundo and his grandmother them here 5 months ago selling crafts in the vast emptiness. Today he was here with his mother and father. I showed them pictures of our last visit and have them three packages of clothes that Lisa prepared. Facundo gave me a piece of art in return for Lisa.
Facundo’s father had an old motorcycle covered with some cardboard setting on Ruta 40. With the nearest gas station a 90 mile round trip away, he asked us if he could siphon some gas from our car. Eduardo obliged. The motorcycle was reminiscent of “The Mighty One” in “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and Dalton wanted a ‘Che’ shot.
The Salinas Grandes are at 11,000 feet, about 3,500 meters. Thousands of years ago there was a great lake here. Now all that’s left are hundreds of square miles of salt. An article I read said, “Everyone drives off here to stand on the salt and think about infinity.” We checked them out too. Steve picked up some salt to bring back home.
We badly mis-guessed the distance across this part of the altiplano – it was about 30 miles across. Luckily the wind were light most of the way. Toward the end we took a lunch break.
Just across the road was Rosaria (I think that’s her name) knitting while herding her 16 llamas and 31 sheep. She mildly throws sticks and rocks at them when they get too close to Ruta 52. Two little boys, probably hers, were a few dozen feet down the road. Eduardo questioned them about their home, school, etc. The answers were not conclusive.
As we approached the mountain range on the other side of this portion of the altiplano, the strong, gusty headwind reemerged. Then the steep climb began. Instead of the limitless flatlands, the road turned into a carved out 10 miles in the mountains, on a solid, step incline. The scenery helped compensate for the wind and climb. We took more pictures riding through this range than anywhere else on the trip to date. Here are two.
We crested the climb at 13,500 feet, by some llamas.
From here, in the distance was something that looked like part of the Grand Canyon. We called it “the hole” and unsuccessfully hoped Susques wouldn’t be down there. Here we are riding the last part of the decline into this remote, high desert town. If you are planning to make this journey across the Andes, this is the only place between Purmamarca and San Pedro de Atacma with hotels and commercial establishments.
Susques is home to the oldest church in Argentina. Built in 1598 it is small and built for shorter people, but it has beautiful art painted on the adobe walls of its interior. Unfortunately it was locked up when we got here. Steve and I took photos while Dalton showed some local kids his iPod and walkie-talkie. We were out of the wind and off the bikes. Everyone had fun.
There are two hotels in Susques, one with 6 rooms, the other with 8. We wanted to stay at El Unquillar, the nicer one, but it was full. We did however go there for dinner (only diners that night) and the gracious hosts let us play with one of their friendly llamas, named “Loco”.
The sunset tonight was spectacular.
No telling when this update will be posted. Neither of the hotels has phones and the adobe ‘telecabina’ place Susques where everyone goes to make calls has no internet. Tomorrow will be a very difficult day as we try to ride 90 miles to Paso de Jama, and camp out at around 14,000 feet.